Who’s that ghost in the mirror? Seems to have a common denominator in Charles Busch’s latest comedy offering by Primary Stages at 59e59 Theaters, directed by Mark Brokaw, when disagreeable older actress Olive (Marcia Jean Kurtz) shares secrets with her new friend Wendy (Julie Halston) and finds that her much detested neighbors, gay couple Robert (David Garrison) and Trey (Dan Butler), also have a history with the man in the mirror. What’s it all about?
Olive, a combination of vinegar and sour lemon, is an unlikeable, bitter woman who doesn’t show an ounce of kindness to anyone, complaining constantly about everything and everyone, including her neighbors Robert and Trey because of the smells coming from their apartment, namely exotic cheeses. Although her friend Wendy tries to help her find more in her life by leaving lists of suggested things she could be doing, namely, volunteer work, teaching a class at an acting school, Olive declines all spending her time being miserable and insulting. Trey says, “You’re Sweeney Todd.” This results in lots of wise-cracking remarks and zingers, many of which are very funny although predictable and repetitious in nature. Apparently, her one claim to fame was a sausage commercial many years prior, not unlike “where’s the beef,” upon which she’s been riding the wave that has become a ripple.
She is inveigled into making a Passover Seder, inviting all these characters including Sylvan (Richard Masur), the Board president’s father visiting from Buenos Aries who has, in spite of her shabby personality, taken a liking to Olive because he knows that what she’s missing is love, even though he calls her “a little bully.”
Relationships are paramount between the characters from Trey and Robert’s suspicious, mischievous quarreling to loveable Sylvan who won’t be dissuaded by Olive, and Wendy eventually comes into her own, screaming and kickin’. Kurtz is well suited for her role as Olive but makes the mistake of breaking that fourth wall as if engaging her audience on various laugh lines to make a point. Many times her portrayal appears filled with too much theatricality. On the whole, however, it’s a top notch cast of winning actors.
Halston, as always, is perfection as the classic interpreter when it comes to Charles Busch’s writings playing an uninvited volunteer to the elderly. The premise of the ghost (his name is Howard) in the mirror is the bond between all the characters and unfolds by the second act in this far-fetched comedy. It’s a story of six degrees of separation! If only Busch himself had jumped out of the mirror and made an appearance as Howard, there might have been a different spin on the play.
You’ll definitely have some laughs in this comedic absurdity, but they will subside as the play continues. The Tony-nominated playwright Charles Busch is known for The Divine Sister & The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, both of which had more panache and substance.